The message below is from Alix Edwards, 23, who graduated from the University of Virginia in the spring of 2005 and almost immediately went to Africa, now in Swaziland as a Peace Corps volunteer. The Church of the Mediator, Allentown, is very proud of her efforts. See more about Mediator's sponsorship of Alix here and Alix's message below.
community of which I have become a member is Ngcosensi, a large rural area in
the highveld Manizini region of
. Almost all the homesteads here live by subsistence farming, mostly on harvests of maize, peanuts and beans. Very few homes have electricity; only government housing for teachers has running water. Most water comes from the river or a tap system- I have learned to carry a bucket of water on my head, but unlike the other women and girls, I require a bucket with a lid!
first Peace Corps volunteer in my area has made me quite a spectacle. For people who have been given so few
opportunities and are conditioned to “quick-fix” gift development from visiting
charitable institutions in their white SUVs, they are incredulous about the
duration of my stay and that I am living with a local family, gaining another
grandmother, father & mother, and a whole mess of siblings, cousins, nieces
and nephews. They wonder at the fact
that I am 23, unmarried, and that I have no children. They ask over and over why anyone who has
made it to
would ever want to then leave it. They ask for “emasweetie”, because that is what Westerns do: they hand out candy, and then they leave.
After two months of training and a three month integration period, I began to help through social organizations and motivated community groups. I give health talks and do baby weighing and immunizations records at a local clinic. I teach “Life Skills”, an integration of sexual education, self-esteem building and relationship skills, to high school students whose ages can range from 12 to 25 in a single class. With the Mediatior’s generous support, I have been able to make the lives of the Rural Health Motivators, the sole provider of health care in Ncgoseni’s borders, armed with only tylenol, a little bit easier. I have also been able to help, with Mediator funds, to irrigate the garden of an incredibly industrious community garden committee.
My most important, or 24-hour job, is as an HIV-AIDS counselor. I answer questions, I discuss how to prevent it, I elaborate on the benefits of testing, we argue about where AIDS comes from. With a population in which it is estimated that 42.7% of people my age have HIV, it is a conversation that comes up often, although the stigma is so great that no one admits to being HIV+. But it has become harder and harder to ignore even in the short time I have been here: every Friday and Saturday night, we fall asleep to the falsely lulling songs of all-night funeral vigils.
All in all, I have found, that the most rewarding part of my experience has been the relationships with family members and friends that I have found here. I am incredibly grateful to this community for including me so fully in their daily life: the richness, the rewards, the community politics, (I think I could have handled missing this one!), the gossip, the tears and the joys that are day-to-day life here. I don’t see this place as one lying fallow in need of my help or a “Western” brand of development. It is merely a wholly different way of life: one which may speak with more deference, which may tread more lightly, which has its own ideals and traditions. It is not a romanticized picture of what we as a culture used to be, a simpler life or one without its own flaws. It is one that has taken me in as a daughter, as a sister, as a teacher and contributor that has made me worthy of my Swazi name: Nothando, which means “conceived in love”. As I hear the gospel music that is played incessantly here, I pick out my name uttered again and again. And I realize that it is true: Nothando, my Swazi self, truly has been conceived in love.
Sala Kahle (Stay Well)